Confession is good for the soul (also, confession is good for soul, with its sometimes-torrid tales of misbehaviour, repentance, suffering and forgiveness the basis of the best southern soul in particular. But I digress) and Selena Gomez is well up for being frank and revealing these days.
That is, not only is she talking about busted relationships, changing course in life and general empowerment – of course - but been given (or helped fashion) not just better words but ones that feel like they may be her own. I know right, radical!
The fact is even if you’re still hung up on deciphering the teen traumas of life with the original Beleiber, that’s not half as interesting as maybe feeling like you’re getting the story in person rather than via a factory formula. And anyway, she has moved on if you’re asking.
So there’s gleeful talk of a bit of, ahem, “weeknd” action with someone who is there for a good time, not a long time, in the syncopated, Prince-ean, Fun (where she asks that “we keep it on first name basis”) which comes as easily as the ripped heart/repaired life of the album’s biggest hit so far, the empowerment ballad, Lose You To Love Me.
Likewise, in Dance Again, she’s taking what she wants when she wants it (“I don’t need permission”) as a kind of balance to Vulnerable, a very Robyn-like mid-tempo groove, where she wonders if baring souls more than flesh is sensible - deciding that, yes, yes, it is.
Having said that though, given Gomez is not a particularly distinctive singer, and the lyrics are not spectacularly insightful, Rare is going to live or die on its pop smarts: its hooks, its flair, and its ability to straddle the lingua franca of the charts, pop/R&B/light electronica.
On that measure, it is a qualified success, a record that doesn’t have quite as many peaks as it thinks, but does feel like a really pleasant way to slide through summer.
That summer mood rests principally on the bubbling Fun and the warm-skinned title track, which opens the album with breathiness and sliding groove, the slinky electro Look At Her Now and the sweat-on-the-upper-lip cooing Cut You Off, which packs a bit more punch than it appears.
These songs pull the curtains back but with an easy confidence, as do two at the other end of the tempo spectrum, Crowded Room, a sliding-into-the-room seducer (with neat but uneventful assistance from 6LACK) and that unabashed heart-tugger Lose You To Love Me, which is set up to not demand too much of her voice, making a virtue of its intimacy.
Attempting the same feel, Kinda Crazy and People You Know (think Blue period Madonna), Ring and the hard to shake off Let Me Get Me (coming across as Rihanna slumming it a bit), and A Sweeter Place (the closing near-ballad, with Kid Cudi the contributing voice this time), are fine, but not as successful in their attempt to be light and tugging at you anyway.
On balance, Rare does Gomez enough good service to keep her in a solid upper middle tier of young pop. Next time should settle the question of whether that is her natural spot.